Writings from the Rabbis

Dispatch from Jerusalem: A Mournful Tishah B'Av in Israel
Aug 15th 2019

Tishah B'Av in Israel is always memorable. History and contemporary life often collide. Years ago, after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, I was part of a group that read Eikhah, the scroll of Lamentations, at his grave. During the 2005 summer of withdrawal from Gaza, the sense of internal Jewish conflict, often a theme on 9 Av, was accentuated.

A number of years ago, when the Masorti (Conservative) community attempted to gather together in the plaza of the Western Wall, we were met by a wall of rejection, shouts, shoves and soiled diapers. In recent years, space has been reserved for us on the Herodian level, in the area of Robinson’s Arch, near the stones that fell when the Roman legion destroyed the ancient Temple. This area, which also has a platform called the All-Israel section of the Wall, has become the visible presence of Masorti Judaism at the Wall.

This year, Josette and I joined the Masorti gathering at the All-Israel section of the Western Wall for the reading of Eikhah. Representing Beth Tzedec, I was honored to read chapter four of Lamentations. Michael Kerzner of Toronto was there with his son. To my surprise, an Orthodox yeshiva community known for its nationalist ideology and rejection of liberal expressions of Judaism, was gathered at the platform level. While I thought this was a benign assembly, the Masorti leadership informed me that this is a new way to muscle us out of our place: not by rejection, simply by occupation. What a contrast to traditional aspirations for community respect of difference.

This Tishah B’Av brought contemporary and historical time together in another way. Many here were grieving for the yeshiva student, Dvir Sorek, killed last week while walking home after purchasing a book to give to his teacher. Dvir was involved in an interfaith dialogue with Muslim youth. I found this letter from Palestinian young adults to be particularly poignant.

A few days ago, our yeshiva friend from Migdal Oz was abducted and killed. When I got the news that morning, I was shocked. I told my Palestinian friends what happened and they didn't believe me…

Dvir Sorek was one of the participants in [our] discussion group. In no way we can imagine that someone we met yesterday will be the victim of tomorrow.

We send our condolences to his family and our friends in the yeshiva. And… we condemn this kind of vicious violence that target us all for our residence place, religion, identity, citizenship. It is so sad we reached the point where we are talking about the right to not be killed…

We are building a bridge between peoples on this land and we will continue to work on it. 

Signed: Palestinian friends from the religious dialogue group

The day following Tishah B’Av carries over a bit of the sadness of the previous day. Masorti/Conservative Jews were saddened by the death of Rabbi Reuven Hammer. A past President of the Rabbinical Assembly and former Dean of the Schechter Institute, Rabbi Hammer was a member of the Neeman Commission, which sought to resolve issues related to conversion in Israel. A scholar whose writings ranged from classical Midrash to contemporary ethics, he was a community rabbi in America who made Aliyah and trained a generation of Israeli rabbinical students. We were privileged in Toronto to have Reuven teach at many local congregations, including Beth Tzedec. I first met Reuven during my university days, when he was a congregational rabbi in a Chicago suburb, and was privileged to serve on the Committee of Jewish Law and Standards with him. I represented Beth Tzedec at his funeral on Tuesday which was attended by family, friends, colleagues, students and dignitaries from all walks of Israeli life.

Immediately following this sad period, Israel turns to Tu B’Av, the traditional celebration of love. Flowers, intimate getaways, chocolates and special productions characterise this time on the Jewish calendar. In Toronto, members of our community will be married. In Jerusalem tonight, I’ll take my grandchildren to see a Shakespeare in the Park production of Measure for Measure with the hope that our acts of kindness and compassion will be recompensed with goodness and grace.

With blessings from Jerusalem,

Rav Baruch